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first ladies

Besides sending Valentines, candy-grams, and adorable yet grossly-cute messages to their BFF’s and short-lived “relationships” of elementary school, the kids packing schools across the country also celebrate some presidential lovin’ in February. With President’s day, Lincoln’s birthday and Washington’s birthday this month, we’re all about remembering some fine role models that have led our nation. With all that Presidential pride though, no one seems to give much attention to the second half that occupies the Presidential pad: The First Lady.

If the President’s role as Chief of State involves being an “inspiring example” to the American people, “upholding the highest values and ideals of the country” then I suppose we could infer that the First Lady has similar duties for leading and inspiring the women of the great U.S. of A…yes? Though not a salaried employee of the nation, and has no “official” duties, we expect our First Ladies to be the stalwart, second-half to their husband’s career. We check in to see what they’re wearing, what their workout routine is, how they interact with their family, and what kind of a hostess they are. We don’t want them to take a front seat, in fact, when Laura Bush entered the press room  to lead a conference during her husband’s presidency, it rocked the news world, spawning questions about whether it was “appropriate” for President’s wives to take a more “official” role in the more serious tasks of leading the country, and, overwhelming, the answer was “no.” We want our First Ladies to maintain a very traditional “female” role it seems, out of the front seat, and safely holding together the First family behind the scenes. Even before the First Lady becomes the First Lady, we expect her to accompany the campaign stops, representing the strength of “family and marriage” to potential voters who critically eye the potential, or incumbent, leading man, often judging him on his marriage and interaction with his wife. So, what are our First Ladies telling us?

Along with President’s birthdays abounding, this month also marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, credited for beginning the second wave of feminism in the 1960’s that focused on women’s rights in the workplace, family-life, and even reproductive rights. Since its debut, the debates the book has inspired definitely have not eased. You could probably say it’s still the nation’s number one hot topic, because, for some reason, we just can’t decide what women want. Career and family? No family, I want a career…wait, no, I’m lonely…I just want a family. Wait, no, I’m feeling ambitiously starved and have sudden clouds of low self-worth…Ah! I can’t do both! I’m stressed…why can’t we be more like men? Why can’t men be more like women? Why does there have to be “men” and “women”? And on, and on, and on we go. Yet, if we take the nation’s “first couple” as our muse, since, that’s part of their “duties:” to be an example of morality, uphold the nation’s ideals, and symbolize our values, then it seems as if marriage, family, and “traditional” female roles are our ideal…doesn’t it? That’s what it appears to be, and if it is, then the militant feminists who attempt to relate that traditional family, marriage, and maintaining different male and female roles are antiquated and nothing more than patriarchal attempts of suppression have a serious First Lady problem because, the First Ladies are still up-holding traditional values. Most First Ladies spearhead their own campaigns during their husband’s presidency to be sure: focusing mostly on education, humanitarian, or women’s health issues, yet, we see them firstly as wives and mothers, the help-mate to the President and the symbol of our nations oldest and most treasured values: motherhood, marriage, strength of a traditional family, and womanhood. The debates, battles, throw-downs, and disagreements about “a woman’s place,” the relevancy of marriage, and equality between genders will continue to be waged, but, whatever side you’re on, just remember the First Ladies, they’re leading the nation’s women in age-old traditions.

Sources: Scholastic | whitehouse.gov | Firstladies.org | image source: FirstLadiesmuseum gallery

– ❤ A. 

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